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Public records lawsuit dismissed after Boswell releases emails to constituent

The ACLU of North Carolina reached a settlement agreement with Rep. Beverly Boswell (R-Beaufort) in a lawsuit over public records.

Boswell released unredacted emails about a plastic bag ban after Kitty Hawk resident Craig Merrill filed a lawsuit over them. She represents in North Carolina House District 6, which includes parts of Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, and Washington counties.

The lawsuit was permanently dismissed Monday, according to a court document.

“Under the law, North Carolinians have a right to know about the decisions our representatives make on our behalf,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of NC. “Though it took far too long, we are glad that Rep. Boswell finally agreed to follow that law and fulfill her responsibilities to her constituent. Transparency is essential to our democracy, and public records laws are instrumental in holding our elected officials accountable to We the People.”

It took Boswell more than a year after the lawsuit was filed for her to release the documents Merrill requested.

“In this day and age, it shouldn’t be this hard for North Carolinians to see public records,” Merrill said after the dismissal. “I am glad this request has finally been resolved, but I hope all officials take note and respect the right of all people to have transparency from their government.”

Boswell isn’t the only legislator who has refused to release her emails. NC Policy Watch tried to obtain emails about judicial redistricting from Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly, Montgomery) last year and he claimed “legislative immunity.” His email denying the public records was similarly worded to Boswell’s initial refusal to Merrill.

“All records are not ‘public records’ even though those records may have been created, received, or in the custody of a public official,” both emails state.

The emails go on to explain that documents in the custody of a legislator are “treated uniquely under the law” and that “Article 17 of Chapter 120 of the General Statutes, Confidentiality of Legislative Communications, provides that requests from legislators to legislative staff, and documents prepared by legislative staff upon the requests of legislators, are not public records, and there existence may not be revealed, unless the legislator making the request so instructs.”

Boswell released her emails before the courts actually weighed in on the merits of the ACLU and Merrill’s case. It will be interesting to see if other lawmakers will follow suit.

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